Zelophehad’s Brave Daughters
July 2, 2021
By Evie Weinstein

The week of July 4th is mixed with a smorgasbord of emotions filled with deep sorrow and grief, unleashed joy, and honor for our beloved country.

You see, my dad, Rudy S. Miller passed away on July 5th when I was only 14 years old.  My mom Hilde understandably was devastated, so July 4th, from my early teens forward was never a time to celebrate, but rather a week to mourn my dad’s death by saying Kaddish, lighting yahrzeit candles and most of all, reliving our terrible grief year after year. 

Then 13 years later our first son, Ron was born on July 2nd. Our family’s joy and gratitude conflicted with the sadness that we were accustomed to at this time of year and there were moments after Ron’s birth that I was confused about my feelings.  How could I mourn during the time of my dad’s yahrzeit, celebrate Ron’s birthday and enjoy America’s most important day?  How could I still honor the memory of my dad and celebrate life’s most important blessings?

This week’s Torah portion, Pinchas helps me to understand that we can consider the benefits of conflicting emotions and how to embrace negative feelings.   It has taught me that negative sentiments can give way to positive results as it is told in the story of the daughters of Zelophehad in this week’s Parsha.

The sisters, Malah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah were angry because the patriarchal laws of their times forbade them to inherit their father’s property after his death.  In order to bring their cause to the community, they publicly demonstrated so their whole town could learn of this unjust law.  The sisters used their anger to change an unjust system by protesting for their rights with utter confidence.  Yes, they were angry, but they used this anger to try to make a positive change in their lives and the lives of others. 

Thinking about these bold and strong sisters, I cannot help comparing it to the social justice movement that is blossoming in our country.  We should be angry about the rise of anti-Semitism around the world.  We should be angry about the hate crimes against our Asian brothers and sisters, and we should be angry about the inequities against our fellow brown and black Americans.  But how we react to our anger can be the catalyst to positive change. 

None of us can go through life without sorrow, anger, impatience and other difficult emotions.  That is just how life is.  The story of Zelophehad and his brave daughters tells us that we can turn difficult problems into opportunities for change both individually and for the greater good.  After all, our founding mothers and fathers back in 1776 took great risks so the people of this new union could be assured of “liberty and justice for all!”   

Rabbi Pam Wax, in The Mussar Torah Commentary: A Spiritual Path to Living a Meaningful and Spiritual Life offers the following prayer:

May it be your will that any anger I feel or express be used only for constructive ends and in service to just causes.  May my anger lead, ultimately, to greater humility, wisdom, and justice.  May I be called to account for any anger that is used for destructive or self-serving ends.  May any anger I feel or express be held in balance with love and compassion for all humanity and offered with purity of motive.  Amen.

Evie Weinstein was the Executive Director of the Bureau of Jewish Education and retired in 2014.  She is now a Mussar Educator and consultant.

Zelophehad's Brave Daughters - Jewish thought of the week graphic